Every author with a book for sale should have a website. Since my novel A Beast in Venice (working title) is scheduled to come out in September, I thought it a good time to start getting one ready. There are many sites where you can build a very nice website. None of them are perfect, but after trying several, I chose Squarespace. Here’s why:
Free trial. Although they do not have a free version, they let you try it for free for two weeks without actually buying it and hoping for a refund. And they let you extend it if you need to. Some sites, such as GoDaddy, make you buy it with the promise that you can cancel it. I read a lot of reviews that said this process was a pain. I never ever buy something I can't try first, particularly on the internet. No free trial? My analysis is over.
Good templates. Some of the sites have templates from the 90s. The templates on Squarespace were modern and clean, although largely geared toward portfolios. They are also quite modifiable.
Excellent customer service. Even with the free trial, they have customer service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that is responsive and helpful. Open a ticket, type in your beef, then submit. They usually respond within an hour with an answer, not a bunch of crap. There is live chat during certain hours, a decent knowledge base, very helpful step-by-step instructions, and short tutorial videos. I found the videos to be largely useless, as there is no sound, just a cursor flying around doing the task. I hate those.
Other sites I tried, such as Wix, had forum help, which 1) was not helpful, and 2) took at least a day.
Unlimited pages. Even the cheaper version has unlimited pages.
Integrated blogs. It’s important to have a blog integrated into your site. You can set up as many blogs as you want. And you can import your blogs from other places. But note: the index/archive/calendar you set up displays the same on all blogs. I discuss this below.
Very flexible. You can add about anything to a page. It’s a little clunky, and not exactly drag-and-drop, but it serves the purpose.
Integration with other services. They are integrated with MailChimp, Amazon, and others. For example, if you are selling something, such as a book, you can add it from Amazon through the Squarespace user interface. It’s wonderful. Not only that, but if you are an affiliate of Amazon, you just crank in your affiliate name and you get credit for the sale.
You can also integrate the contact form with MailChimp to collect data and subscriptions for a newsletter.
URL Hosting. You can get a free URL and they host it.
What I don’t like:
Here's the biggie: You can't separately index blogs. You can have as many blogs as you want, each with a different title and everything. But when you add an index (archive/calendar) to the sidebar, the same one is shown on all blogs. So, if you create an index for blog A, the same index shows up on blog B. I exchanged a few emails with them, but in the end they said that's how it is. Well, it shouldn't be. They did refer me to a guy who had code for it, but I had to glean some big long strings out of the source code. I decided forty years ago that I didn't want to be a programmer. Give me code to cut and paste, no problem. I can even modify it slightly. But that's it. If I wanted to program a website, I wouldn't need Squarespace.
No image library. They are integrated with a couple of pay services, but there’s no on-site image storage. This is a real pain.
Learning Curve. The interface is not all that intuitive. That’s where their knowledge base comes in handy. But once you get the hang of it, it’s very powerful.
Slow. Now, maybe it’s my shit internet connection in Italy, but the process of making changes and looking at pages in the editor seemed slow to me.
Runner up: Gutensite.
I spent a lot of time with Gutensite. Their templates are beautiful and artful, the interface is great, they have blogs, a wonderful system of image and media storage. For example, when you upload an image, it keeps it in a category, and when you wish to add it to a page, the library is right there.
The only real thing that kept me from using it was that for about the same price as Squarespace, there is a 25 page limit. There is also a lot less integration with other services. If, however, you can live with 25 pages, they have a free version with their logo, and the $16 per month version with no ads.
There is practically no customer support for the free version, but the pay version has email support. And the crew there seemed very nice and interested in my business. I may reconsider if they come off the page limit.
The other thing is that they require you to publish your email on the site you create. This may not matter to some people, but I didn't want to do it. They said they would waive it if it was a deal breaker, to their credit. But it seems like some silly requirement based on some strange philosophy they have.
Weebly. I found the iterface to be geared toward kids. Couldn’t get past it.
Wix. Wix is also geared toward very young people, but once I got past the horrible pictures of teenie-boppers, it had a serious enough interface, so I gave it a try. The great thing is that they have a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop interface that makes your design perfectly flexible. You can put anything anywhere.
Customer service is poor. Basically, a forum, as I mentioned above, and not very knowledgeable, so far as I could tell. A lot of the help information (which is pathetic as it is) relates to the old flash version. For example, I could not figure out how to set up a blog. There was info and instructions, which I beat my head against the wall trying to figure out. Turns out, the present version does not support blogs. The info is NA.
HTML does not allow access to outside links. I have HTML for share buttons, but they don’t work in Wix. That was the deal breaker, even if they had blogs.
No Blog. This I can't believe. They are presenting themselves as hip and modern and cool, but they don't have an integrated blog.
They have a lot of “apps,” but they are designed primarily to get more money from you for what is really basic functionality. And they want your personal data. And for the most part, they suck.
I tried numerous others, but found them all to be either too expensive, too clunky, too hard to use, no free trial, or geared toward kids. Squarespace, with all its failings, is the best I found. If they had an image library, and you were able to index all your blogs separately, it would be nearly perfect.